24 Jun 2019

Safe Streets, A Participant’s Story: Alex Atkins

Alex Atkins, who grew up in Humboldt Park, vividly remembers tough experiences “using and selling weed” for several years. He eventually asked himself “Am I am going to do this every day? Or am I going to go ahead and get me a job?”

These days, he is trying to find a new path - one that involves work and may lead back to school. Alex has worked closely with the outreach team at ALSO, which has mentored him and shown him that there are alternatives.

Alex Atkins, Safe Streets participant (right) and Maribel Romero, Lead Case Manager at ALSO. On April 25, Alex and Maribel were honored by Community Partners 4 Peace (CP4P) at an event held at the Humboldt Park Fieldhouse that recognized participants and staff of the program.

To understand how far Alex, who is 23, has come, consider more of the story that led him to this point.

“We smoked weed and sold it all the time,” he says of himself and a group of friends. “I’d leave the house around seven in the morning and come back at one at night.”

At one point, he says, he “saw no point in going to school, even though I only needed one credit to graduate.  I didn’t really have any thoughts about the future. I was just getting money by selling weed.” Then, in 2014 - a week after he stopped going to high school - Alex had his first epileptic seizure. He’s had about 50 seizures since then, and has been to a hospital 20 times because of his epilepsy.

“I thought it was going to keep on going like this. And then, right before I turned 20, I got shot. The bullet went right through both of my legs and hit one of my thighs. It crippled me for a few months.”

Meanwhile, by the time he was a senior in high school, Alex’s father had passed away. Alex lived in Humboldt Park with his great-grandfather, and now lives in Oak Park with his mother. He has struggled to get on public aid, he says, and is still trying to make that happen.

At one point, he says, he started talking to Marcus Davis - his father’s fiance’s brother. Marcus is also a street outreach worker at ALSO. “He was like my ‘step uncle,’” Alex says. “His attitude was ‘Let’s see if I can help you out, Alex.’”

Marcus told Alex about ALSO, and Alex participated in the 10-10-10 Employment Program, which teaches disconnected youth and young adults how to set up and operate state-of-the-art sound system equipment.

Safe Streets participant Alex Atkins

At first, Alex says “I was really skeptical of ALSO. I thought it was just another youth program, and they might check up on you every two or three weeks.” Instead, what he learned was that he was welcomed into the program by a number of people - including outreach workers Nelson Torres,Christine Escalera and Rolando Otero (who is also Outreach Supervisor) as well as Lead Outreach Worker Orlando Cintron and caseworker George Gonzalez. Lead Case Manager Maribel Romero has helped Alex put together a resume and prepare for interviews.

“These people understand my predicament, and I learned from them that there are a lot of other things I could do with my life besides selling drugs. I don’t want to be locked up or on probation and limited in what kind of job I can get.”

George connected Alex to a job opportunity at a car wash at Quiroga’s Car Wash in Chicago, and Alex worked there - washing, drying and detailing cars -  for five months. Later, ALSO helped connect Alex to a variety of jobs through temp agencies. He also went to Springfield with George and Marcus to participate in a rally against gun violence with inVEST Chicago, a citywide partnership organizations working on the issue.

Alex talks to Marcus three or four times a week; Nelson checks up on him, and Orlando is trying to help him get another job. In the meantime, he is starting to share the message about ALSO to younger brothers and cousins. “I tell them that the program is going to help you out - schoolwise, financial-wise. The people at ALSO care - and they will help you.”

Down the road, Alex says, he would like to be in a stable job and can also see himself working with youth. Marcus says that Alex is “passionate about talking to people his age and younger, and has learned a lot from his experience.”

“When I was younger, there was no guidance for me,” says Alex. “ I’ve learned that you can have a long life, but stuff you do when you’re younger will affect you in the future. I can share what I’ve learned with others who are in the same situation.”

Recap:

Alex Atkins, who grew up in Humboldt Park, vividly remembers tough experiences “using and selling weed” for several years. These days, he is trying to find a new path - one that involves work and may lead back to school. Alex has worked closely with the outreach team at ALSO, which has mentored him and shown him that there are alternatives.

“The people at ALSO understand my predicament, and I learned from them that there are a lot of other things I could do with my life besides selling drugs,” says Alex. “I don’t want to be locked up or on probation and limited in what kind of job I can get.”

Down the road, Alex says, he would like to be in a stable job and can also see himself working with youth. “When I was younger, there was no guidance for me,” says Alex. “ I’ve learned that you can have a long life, but stuff you do when you’re younger will affect you in the future. I can share what I’ve learned with others who are in the same situation.”

DONATE TODAY!

ALSO is an organization committed to end violence in homes and communities nationwide. Your contribution will help us live out our mission to develop, promote and implement model programs in order to build a movement for peace and safety in the coming year.

With your support, we will:

  • Continue providing jobs for in-risk youth through our 10-10-10 job training program.
  • Provide bystander intervention training for youth and community members, giving people the skills to know how to increase safety in high risk situations.
  • Explore and reveal the relationship between intimate partner and community violence to create programming that will reduce both.

Give online